Israeli Opera: Rusalka

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Rusalka/Photo: Mirco Magliocca

The enchantment of Czech composer Antonin Dvořák’s Rusalka comes to the Israeli Opera in March, in a breath-taking production directed by Stefano Poda, and conducted by Dan Ettinger. The much-anticipated performances are a coproduction of the Opéra Nationale du Capitole de Toulouse and the Israeli Opera, and will take place from March 4 – 15, 2024. Poda is well known as a director who conceives an entire visual world for his operas, designing set, costumes, lighting design and movement. His previous productions performed at the Israeli Opera – Les Contes d’Hoffmann in 2022, and Faust in 2017 are memorable for their creative and striking images.

Rusalka/Photo: Mirco Magliocca

A rusalka is a figure from Slavic mythology, a water sprite who usually lives in a lake or river. The opera’s libretto was written by the poet Jaroslav Kvapil, based on the fairy tales of Karel Jaromir Erben and Božena Němcová. Tales of water spirits, sirens, nymphs, and mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide. Some are described as malevolent or tragic figures, often with a seductive beauty, while others are benevolent, offering their magical protection to seafarers. Contemporary audiences will find in Rusalka a narrative reminiscent of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, as well as its more upbeat animated adaptation.  The opera opens in the magical setting of a lake, where the wood nymphs cavort with the Water Sprite. His daughter, Rusalka, tells her father that she has fallen in love with a prince, and longs to become human so that she may live with him. Although he is saddened by her confession of love, he sends Rusalka to consult with the witch Jezibaba. Jezibaba tells Rusalka that she can help her become human, but at a cost. Rusalka will not be able to speak, and if she fails in winning the prince’s heart, she will be compelled to lure him to his death, while she will be condemned to limbo forever. Undeterred, Rusalka submits to Jezibaba’s terms.

While hunting in the woods the prince encounters Rusalka and is captivated by her beauty. He takes her to his castle and plans to marry her. However, a foreign princess, with whom an alliance would be politically advantageous, tries to seduce the prince, and turns his attention away from Rusalka. Saddened, and unable to protest, Rusalka returns, defeated, to the woods and lake. In time, the prince realizes that he has lost his true love, but it is too late.

Rusalka/Photo: Mirco Magliocca

Stefano Poda transforms the stage of the Israeli Opera into a wondrous world of water, with powerful symbolic imagery, creating a lake in which the water sprites dance. There is a sharp distinction between the water folk, who are in harmony with nature, and humans. In its second act the scene is set in the prince’s palace, whose walls are made of electrical circuits, and the palace’s residents dressed in lavish, extravagant costumes. In its third and closing act, the opera returns to its setting in nature, the woods and the lake, where the tale finds its resolution.

Rusalka/Photo: Mirco Magglioca

Soloists in Rusalka: Alla Vasilevitsky and Ani Yorentz alternating as Rusalka; Alexei Dolgov and Adrian Kramer alternating as The Prince; Edna Prochnick as Jezibaba; Ionut Pascu and Maxim Kuzmin-Karavaev alternating as Water Sprite; Yasmin Levi-Ellentuck as Foreign Princess; Rona Shrira and Tamara Navoth alternating as Cook; Shaked Strul as First Nymph; Efrat Bram Hacohen as Second Nymph; Shay Bloch as Third Nymph; Oded Reich as Hunter and Gamekeeper. The opera will be sung in Czech.

Performances will take place from March 4 – 15, 2024. A 30-minute introductory lecture in Hebrew will take place in the auditorium one hour before each show, admission is free for ticket holders. Opera Talkback – a discussion with some of the artists following the performance will take place on the second level of the Opera House foyer on the following dates: March 5, 7, 12 & 13. Tickets and additional information are available on the Israeli Opera website: https://www.israel-opera.co.il/eng